Scotland’s Oldest Bridges.
A map-based catalogue of the oldest masonry bridges in Scotland.
Reputed Roman Bridges and Remains
O’Connor (Ref)) lists 330 Roman bridges in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Not only are many of these still standing, but frequently have retained their style and masonry substance from that period. However, they are all in the southern part of the ancient Roman Empire with a few significant exceptions. Twenty-five Roman bridges are listed in France, but if a horizontal line were drawn across the lowest quarter of the country only three would lie north of it. There are also a few Roman bridges in Germany and one in Belgium. So marked is this geographical demarcation that it is hard to entirely blame bad weather for the absence of bridges in the North of Europe. It may be that bridges distant from Rome were built to a different specification- perhaps entirely wooden, or with wooden superstructure on masonry piers. (O’Connor suggests the former.) We know that they certainly built bridges ( see section on Severus). However, voussoirs are noticeably absent from almost all archaeological findings. In Scotland, as well as in England, no standing bridges remain from that period. This absence contrasts with tradition and unsupported history (see History section).
Bertha ( Tay River. 310498,727021) About 3.5 km upstream of the present bridge at Perth. This bridge is not part of the collection. The Roman road from Camelon (Larbert ) coursed through Stirling, Braco, Strageith, Innerpeffray and along the Gask Ridge to Bertha at Perth. The 9-acre fort at Bertha, on the banks of the Tay, was first described by Maitland and then by Roy in the 18th century with subsequent extensive confirmation through the 20th century. Redgorton Old Statistical Accounts (about 1793) includes the following note- “ The foundation of a wooden bridge thrown over the Tay at this place still remains, it consists of large oak planks, from six to eight inches in diameter, fastened together by long stairs, but coarsely jointed, and surrounded with clasps of iron, frequently twisted. It would seem that screwbolts and fine made joints were then unknown. I caused one of them to be raised some years ago at the request of the late Dr. Hope, who assured me that the fabric of the wood was not in the least decayed.” These remains could still be seen at the time of the New Statistical Accounts (1845). First Edition OS outlines them although Crawford(R) disputes the exact location. Wooliscroft(R) notes that nothing appeared to remain through the 20th century. A 1960’s sub-aqua investigation appeared to be unsuccessful. Although these descriptions are compelling, the evidence remains anecdotal and as Wooliscroft observes, ” ..we can only admit that we have no idea whether the structure was Roman , or even exactly where it was” He has no need to remind us that the old Roman road was probably in use through the Dark Ages and into the early Medieval Period. Such a bridge might be dated to any point in a very long stretch of history.
Bishop’s Bridge, Perthshire (287514,715370). This bridge can be found in the collection. It lies on the Roman road crossing of the Machany Water about 6km NE of the first-century fort at Ardoch. The road continues to the Gask Ridge and then on to Perth. The bridge is largely an 18th-century structure but has three sections of parallel widening below; it is possible that the central section may date from the 15th century. The Bishop was Bishop Ochiltree of Dunblane who died in 1446. No Roman remains have been found. It may be that the first-century crossing was just adjacent to the bridge on the downstream side.
Balmuildy ( Kelvin River) Not part of the collection
At Balmuildy on the Antonine Wall ( 257963 671843) the remains of stone abutments were uncovered in 1941 with some blocks appearing to have been part of a cutwater or abutment. No voussoirs were found which might suggest that the superstructure was of wood. An oak beam was part of the finding. These remnants can be seen in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow. However, dendrochronology later proved the oak beam to be 14th century. A Roman bridge probably preceded the medieval one. There is no bridged crossing at Balmuildy on any of the three old maps.
Polmont Burn (292495 679503) Not part of the collection.
In 1992, at Polmont on the Antonine wall, two bridge abutments were found, 4.6m apart: the remains of a bridge carrying the military way adjacent to the Wall.
Channels in the stone appeared to be seating for horizontal wooden beam decking. (Bailey, GB.1996 (R)‘. A bridge does not appear on any of the old maps.
Holehouse Linn (306018,608916) Not part of the collection. A banking abutment where the Roman road crosses a burn just adjacent to the B719 north of Moffat.
Air Cleuch (295449,615441) Not part of the collection. Impressive raised embankments on either side of a burn where a Roman road crosses. Near the A708.
Duntocher Bridge (Duntocher Burn) 249386 672790. Included in the collection. This bridge was completely rebuilt in 1772 by Lord Blantyre. The date stone in Latin suggests that the bridge was built by Quintus Lollius Urbicus. The style of Latin (and content) is inappropriate, and the style of the bridge is scarcely compatible. This is a late-18th-century build. However, the proximity to the Antonine wall does leave a suspicion that the bridge depicted on Roy and on Blaeu might have been Roman.
Roman Bridge, Inverkip(222307 672549) Kip Water Included in the collection.
15th or 16th-century packhorse bridge. Slightly gothic arch (or broken semicircular arch). Appears on Roy and Blaeu.
Roman Bridge, Inverary ( 205910 704805) Douglas Water. Included in the collection. This was an 18th century single segmental arched bridge which has now collapsed. Appears only on Roy.
Darvel Roman Bridge (Law bridge) (257027 638268) Glen Burn. Included in the collection. Late 18th-century bridge in the Irvine Valley. Appears on Roy and Blaeu.
Centurian’s Bridge ( Roman Bridge) Penicuik.321963 658975. N.Esk. Included in the collection. Built in 1738 by 2nd baronet Clerk of Newbiggin House ( now Penicuik House.) A beautiful early 18th-century estate bridge, fully restored.
Musselburgh Roman Bridge R.Esk (334075 672537) Included in the collection. 16th-century bridge with a 14th-century history and probably some 14th-century masonry. Reputed to have 6th-century foundations. Lies on a putative Roman road which is unconfirmed. However, we know that in 1809 the face of one of the 16th-century buttresses was opened up, and inside the outer masonry there were remains of still older masonry resting on transverse oak beams. These may be a vestige of the earlier medieval bridge on the same site. The present bridge has three segmental arches of 16th-century style. It is very similar to Haddington bridge from the same period. The bridge is on Roy and on Blaeu.
Lornty Bridge Blairgowrie Lornty Burn. (317124 746483) Included in the collection. A modern bridge incorporating two very old arches. The older arch may be 15th century. Reputed to be Roman; this is unlikely as the only known Roman road is about 10k away, which is far enough to exclude any association and yet near enough to make a duplicate road unlikely. Appears on Roy and Pont.
Dean Bridge, Cardean. Dean Water(328656 745836) Included in the collection. This 17th century, two span semicircular bridge appears to lie precisely on the Roman crossing of the Dean Water. It is adjacent to the Roman Fort with the Agricolan road running through. Roy (1750) and Crawford (1939, (R)) both confirmed this. Appears only on Roy.
Roman Bridge, Bothwellhaugh South Calder Water (272886,657973)
Included in the collection. Within Strathclyde Park, this single semicircular arched bridge lies close to Watling Street as it approaches Bothwell from the South. Roy depicts the Roman crossing a little upstream of the bridge but includes both the bridge and the crossing on his map. The bridge is noted in the Old Stat. Accts of 1791 but is absent from Blaeu and from Pont. Paintings and old photos suggest that there had been considerable loss from spandrels and parapets before the present low level coping was added in the late 19th century, so it was probably not a packhorse bridge. It appears to be older than 18th century, but its absence from Pont and Blaeu is important. May be 17th-century.
Roman Bridge, Monzie nr Crieff. (287849,725070) Shaggie Water. Not in the Collection. A beautiful, small 16th or 17th century packhorse bridge which does not appear on any of the old maps. It does not lie on the Roman road which is about 10km to the south; nor does it lie on the adjacent old military road which may be the foot print of a Roman road through the Sma’Glen. Not in the collection because it is not on any of the old maps.
Innerpeffray Cutting. 290135, 713297. On the River Earn, at an ancient fording point just east of Strageath Roman Fort and below the library at Innerpeffray , there is a cutting in the steep embankment leading up from the ford to join the Roman Road along the Gask Ridge. The road comes from the Antonine Wall all the way to Perthshire and beyond. A properly metalled road surface has been uncovered within the cutting with revetments on both sides. Medieval pottery ( but no Roman artifacts) have been found.
There are a few other bridges which do appear to lie on confirmed Roman roads though none have Roman remains. These include Brigghouse Bridge at West Linton, Drumlanrig Bridge in the Nith Valley (possibly) and Cleghorn Bridge in Lanarkshire. Newmills Bridge (Dalkeith, South Esk.) Lugton Bridge (Dalkeith, North Esk) and Ancrum Bridge (Teviot) may be close to the progress of Dere St., going North. The bridges at Larbert, Whins of Milton, Stirling, Bridge of Allan and Dunblane also may be close to the main Roman road north from the Antonine Wall. In the 18th-century, Nimmo identified bridge remains near Larbert, on the Carron. Nothing remains today.
The most challenging crossings for known Roman roads were as follows;- on the Teviot, just east of Jedburgh; on the Tweed, a little SE of Melrose; on the Forth, probably at Kildean (a mile west of Stirling); on the Earn at Innerpeffrey; on the Tay at Perth (Bertha). In each case, a ford crossing might have been possible, but passable, only sometimes, and only in summer.
On the Antonine Wall (CE 142), there were three rivers of any substance that had to be crossed: the Duntocher Burn at Duntocher, the Kelvin at Balmuildy and the Avon at Polmont. No firm Roman remains have been uncovered. There is a small 18th century bridge at Catlecary crossing the Red Burn.
Page last updated Oct.2020